BBC Radio 4, 1-5 November 2010
Read by Hugh Bonneville - who played Larkin in a BBC2 drama Love Again - Letters to Monica spanned the forty years of the relationship between Philip Larkin and Monica Jones. They only came to light on Jones' death in 2001. Part-confessional, part-fantasy, the letters revealed Larkin's tendency to call Jones by a pet name ("Bunny") in an affair that, while being close, was never consummated. Jones was Larkin's critic, confidante and sounding-board for all of his poetic experiments; frequently his letters contained drafts of whole poems that he asked her to evaluate.
Letters to Monica also revealed the depth of Larkin's self-loathing, as well as his dissatisfaction with the world around him. He derided everything from the BBC to his employers (the University of Hull) to his fellow-writers; he was particularly hard on Kingsley Amis and John Betjeman. The letters revealed him as a narcissist, who denigrated others in order to promote himself. Quite why he should have done this was left unexplaind; perhaps it was just the writer's basic fear of being unrecognized.
Bonneville's readings were interspersed with snatches of jazz; they summed up Larkin's prevailing mood of melancholy. However I did wonder whether this wasn't a pose, deliberately adopted to solicit Jones' sympathy. Like a child, Larkin craved for a mother-figure to pat him on the head and make him feel good. I was left wondering whether Larkin, for all his claims to loathe the limelight and stay in his little cocoon at Hull University Library, actually loved being a reclusive celebrity, communicating his thoughts through letters in the secure knowledge that they would be brought to public attention following his death. The producer was Lucy Collingwood.